Planet Sport writer
Placed in Grade Two company as a novice hurdler last season, the seven-year-old made a successful chasing debut at Cheltenham in November before producing a spring-heeled display to land the Dipper Novices’ Chase on his return to Prestbury Park on New Year’s Day.
The Real Whacker has been given an ambitious entry in the Cheltenham Gold Cup but looks set to stick to novice company, with a step back up in trip for the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase the likely target.
Neville said: “He came out of the race on New Year’s Day very good, I’m very happy with him. He stepped up a good bit and I was delighted with him.
“I think he’ll go straight to the Festival now – we’re not that far away. Probably the most logical will be the Brown Advisory. I gave him an entry in the Gold Cup, but we’ll probably go for the three-mile novice.
“His jumping is very good and his last run was only his sixth run. He hasn’t much mileage on the clock and if he keeps progressing, I’ll be happy.”
The Real Whacker is the star of a team of around 20 horses Neville trains out of Ann Duffield’s yard in North Yorkshire, having made the move from Ireland in 2021.
Neville was due to take up residence at a yard of his own yard in nearby Middleham, but ended up setting up alongside Duffield on the outskirts of Leyburn and it has proved a fruitful relationship.
“I came over a year ago last November. I came to take a yard and when that fell through I ended up going to Ann Duffield and I’m delighted it’s working out,” the trainer added.
“I thought it would be easy transferring the Irish licence over but it wasn’t – it took nine or 10 months. Initially we were running the National Hunt horses under Ann’s name and since we came over we’ve had about 17 winners.
“N’Golo was a Grade Three winner and ‘Whacker’ was second in the Grade Two hurdle last year.”
Reflecting on his decision to move across the Irish Sea, Neville said: “I’ve been training in Ireland since around 2006 and we had some nice winners, but just for the last couple of years it was a struggle. We just couldn’t get owners.
“The good thing about the UK is there’s plenty of racing and you can train horses for races. In Ireland there might be only one race meeting on during the week and you could be balloted out then for six or seven weeks. It’s very hard to keep a horse training for that long without getting into a race.
“I travelled over to England a few times and a had a few winners and I just thought ‘you know what, it’s costing too much to travel over, I’ll give it a go over here for a while and see how it goes’.
“We’ve got fabulous facilities and I get on great with Ann. I rent 22 or 23 boxes off her, it’s a lovely location and it’s going well.”